A World Of Difference

I am cleaning out email boxes and I discover some notes from a writing class I took at a National conference that addresses multicultural education

I discover a piece I wrote in the class about an experience I had as an assistant librarian in an independent school.

When you’re the multi in a culture not so used to difference:

She is in the second grade
She stands in the library,
surrounded by books, a determined seeker
of that which only she knows.
There is no smile on her face but she does not frown either.
Deep in thought, surrounded by her classmates
she does not see anything but what she seeks.
The found book is brought proudly to the circulation desk
where I stand. I do not frown but I do know this is not the book
she can have right now. I do not remember why it is not right.
I just remember it is not right for her right now.
She balks and pouts and keeps asking “Why,” as if to hear me
say the same thing over and over again. I sense that she is not used to
the color of my voice,
this child with permission to resist an adult.
It is a battle of the wills, her determination vs. my authority
which I do not think about in that tug of war moment.
I want what’s best for her seven-year-old mind.
She wants what she wants. I do not see the steel in her eyes
when she turns to leave the library with her class.
She leaves sans coveted book, but wrapped tightly in her determination
she tells a different story of intimidation
when she gets home to Mama.
who writes to the teacher who writes to me
though knowing me does not defend me
but succors the mother.
I am a black woman who manages her voice at school,
tempers it to match the sensibility of my little patrons.
This time.
I lose.

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THE OTHER THAT IS ME!

The Other
The Other is an individual who is perceived by the group as not belonging, as being different in some fundamental way. Any stranger becomes the Other. The group sees itself as the norm and judges those who do not meet that norm (that is, who are different in any way) as the Other. Perceived as lacking essential characteristics possessed by the group, the Other is almost always seen as a lesser or inferior being and is treated accordingly. The Other in a society may have few or no legal rights, may be characterized as less intelligent or as immoral, and may even be regarded as sub-human.” http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/other.html

I have worked with summer programs for 20+ years. In the early years, the programs were cocooned, separate from the majority culture. Though the population of children was somewhat diverse, the teachers and staff all looked like me, all African American.

The summer program to which I am now attached is of a different “color, “simply meaning, while some diversity is still in place in the student population, the teachers are mostly white. There is nothing wrong with this mix because the teachers (who are in the final stage of a credentials program) bring to the students all they need to continue to grow and stretch academically. However, we are housed on a campus with a separate program that is not used to such diversity, so the field is ripe for misunderstandings, assumptions and micro-aggressions … on their part, not mine.

Yes, this issue of the “Other that is Me” lies not with the students or the teachers but with the opinions of those around me who do not look like me, individuals whose only information about the “Other Who Is Me” may come through the media and/or opinions of people who also look just like them.

When the “Other That Is Me” comes into view, certain assumotions come into play about the capability and ability of the “Other Who Is Me” to function well, if even at all.

It is assumed that when a situation appears untenable or unmanageable, I will, of course, need assistance, without bothering to check with me to see if, indeed, I need any help at all.

It is assumed, when the children wander into spaces where they should not be (which children have been known to do), that I should be informed as to how such scenarios should be handled without even once just Informng me about the situation and trusting me to handle it because, after all, I do have some experience with this population and the program.

It is assumed that if a playground is left messy that it had to be our kids because, you know, that is how the “Others” roll. And yes, trash was left on the playground, but, having worked at the site during school years, I am well aware of messes left behind in the cafeteria and on those same playgrounds. When I do check out the “mess,” I discover trash along the perimeter of the playground that appears to have been there for a while. I leave it in place for their maintenance people to do their job.

I have been the “Other That Is Me” all my life though the burden of “Otherness” is not as much of a concern for me as it was when I was younger. I am more vocal these days about those things that need to be addressed in the moment. I see every such moment as an opportunity for someone to learn and to grow and to stretch, namely those individuals who can only see me, and the children, as the “Other.”

What I do need, as well, is the grace to speak the truth in love, to understand the micro-aggression as ignorance, the stereotype as uninformed and the assumption as asinine misinformation.

That’s my plan, anyway.

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“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

 

A Lemonade Dream

The “Black-ish” episode of a few weeks ago, “Lemons,” was thought provoking. The premise of the episode was the diverse responses to Donald Trump’s election as President.

The musical intro to the episode is Marvin Gaye’s iconic “What’s Going On?” still a valid question, especially in today’s chaotic and confusing climate.

Dre’s voiceover reminds us that “Upsets are as American as apple pie; someone wins, someone loses. But what happens when the winners and losers are supposed to be on the same team?”

What, indeed?

Everyone is dealing, in their own way, with the after-effects of the election.

Rainbow is dressed in every piece of activist apparel she could buy on sale at “Barneys” (a bit of irony there).

“You look like a NPR [National Public Radio] commercial,” is Dre’s response to his wife’s gear.

Zoe and Junior are not in school this day because it has been designated a day of reflection after a student declares to a teacher that she, Ms. Gomez, will soon be shipped back to her country and leads his classmates in the chant, “Ship her back! Ship her back!’

Junior prepares to share the MLK  “I Have A Dream” speech at the day of healing while Zoe concentrates on a very special lemonade recipe, a drink she plans to share that day.

Rainbow is concerned about Zoe’s seemingly disassociation from all that is going on in the country after the election and her apparent obsession with the making of this lemonade.

When her mother tries to ascribe some symbolism to the lemonade,, Zoe responds that is just a “non-carbonated refreshment” which her friends will like.

The tension is high in the company conference room as everyone voices their angst and despair and even satisfication about the election outcome. Fingers are pointed and voices are raised. Charlie admits that he voted for Obama because he was black. Lucy admits that she voted for Trump as opposed to voting for a woman and in rebuttal to the accusation that her vote marks her as a racist, she declares, “I am not a racist. I have black friends.”

A word to the wise right here: This statement of Lucy’s does not endear you to the hearer who is black. This is not a pass for anyone white who makes this declaration.

“No one knows how we got here, but everyone has their own ideas.”

Their ideas are all over the place with no resolution in sight.

Dre’s father, when he learns that Junior is going to make the “I Have A Dream” speech on the day of healing at his school, tells him that this is not the entire speech and recites it for Junior.

“There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” `~excerpt, MLK, “I Have A Dream” Speech

“Why didn’t I know this?” Junior decries his ignorance.

“Because they don’t want you to know. … Yeah, Martin had a lot more Malcolmin him than a lot of people give him credit for.”

Junior, astonished by the tone of the text, becomes the black clad radical brandishing a baseball bat in his bedroom.

His grandfather takes away the bat as he tells Junior “Heyy, what’s going on here. I did not tell you this for you to become another angry black man.”

He then explains to Junior that Dr. King added the “I have a dream” section to the speech after gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who had heard that portion before, yelled out to Dr. King, “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream!”

The inhabitants of the conference room begin to wonder about Dre’s solemnity in the passionatate discussions and someone asks, “Why don’t you care?

As Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” plays in the background and pictures of African Americans flit across the screen, Dre speaks:

“I love this country even though at times it doesn’t love me back. For my whole life my parents, my grandparents, me, for most black people, this system has never worked for us. But we still play ball, tried to do our best to live by the rules even though we knew they would never work out in our favor, had to live in neighborhoods that you wouldn’t drive through, send our kids to schools with books so beat up you couldn’t read them, work jobs that you wouldn’t consider in your nightmares.

Black people wake up everyday believing our lives are gonna change even though everything around us says it’s not. Truth be told, you ask most black people and they tell you no matter who won the election, they don’t expect the hood to get better. But they still voted because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

You think I’m not sad that Hillary didn’t win? That I’m not terrified about what Trump’s about to do? I’m used to things not going my way. I’m sorry that you’re not and it’s blowing your mind, so excuse me if I get a little offended because I didn’t see all of this outrage when everything was happening to all of my people since we were stuffed on boats in chains. I love this country as much — if not more — than you do. And don’t you ever forget that.

Junior makes his speech. Zoe shares her lemonade as she asserts it is not liberal lemonade, not conservative lemonade, just lemonade made with love.

There is no resolution in sight but everyone arrives to the point where each realizes that all voices are needed in the conversation, courageous conversations is what I call them.

I have not added much commentary to this post because I just want us all to think about where we are headed, where this country is headed, and how we can add our voices to the healing of the obvious rifts in this land.

I leave you with words from the movie “Red Tails,” words spoken by Andre Braugher’s character, Benjamin O. Davis:

“How do I feel about my country and how does my country feel about me?”

That is still the question.

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Watch the episode here:

http://abc.go.com/shows/blackish/episode-guide/season-3/12-lemons

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BLACK LIVES MATTER?

I am African American

I also identify as Black

But I don’t have to tell anyone this fact

As soon as you see me you know

I am African American

I am Black

Raised in an era where I was commanded to stay in my place

i have never been unaware of the inderground racism of America

Unfounded presumptions about me and my community

I have been the “only one” many times

From my first real job in 1969 to my last real job in 2014

I have done private sector, government and education

In each place I worked harder to prove the doubters wrong even as they questioned my right to be in their presence

Today’s climate of unfettered racism, though a disappointment, is no real revelation to me

Which is why I feel compelled to address this hot spot of “Black Lives Matter”

Responses are appreciated, but reflection (rather than reaction) is encouraged first

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A View From Monday

Why should Black Lives Matter?

Because for too long they have not mattered enough. Seen as a monolith rather than individuals, the lynching/murder of one equals the lynching/murder of all in our collective hearts. In the minds of the silent majority, not so much. Such horrors viewed in silence is tantamount to assent, pretty much like those viewing parties/picnics held back in the day at the foot of a tree upon which hung strange fruit harvested in southern soil.

Yes, Black Lives do Matter to us; it is our assertion of the right to our humanity, to live without fear of of being accosted and harmed without reason or logic while the society that surrounds us can blithely devalue our loss, condemn our anger, reject our pain and question our frustration by demanding that we relinquish our sovereignty to their command that All Lives Matter.

All Lives do Matter, but when you reject my right to point out that the value of my life is too often subjective, allow you to defame character in death as though execution was warranted and long overdue, that we must be the first to forgive when our hearts are broken, then we have a problem. Until this changes, our assertion must continue to be because All Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, in fact, Black Lives Must Matter.

 

 

GRACE UNDER FIRE

The old man sits silently on the steps of his front porch.

These are his thinking steps.

“Always thinking,” his wife used to mutter to herself, “Always thinking!”

Miz Mae never really understood her husband’s quiet ways, his continuous reflections on the curiosities of life.

“Always thinking!”

The old man sits on the steps and stares down the street to the corner where some young boys stand discussing whatever it is young boys discuss these days.

“Hey, old man!”

Rufus, a longtime friend, shuffles up to sit beside his old friend.

It is a daily routine for these two, old friends sitting side by side on the stoop talking and listening to one another.

The old man clears his throat, a sure sign he is about to speak on something he has been thinking about for quite some time

“You know, Rufus, we as a people personify grace under fire.”

He rubs his gray grizzled chin as he speaks.

“Whut you mean by “puhSAHnuhfie?” The old man’s friend often wonders where his friend learned all those big words.

“It’s like we look like grace under fire, like if grace under fire was human, it would look like us.”

“Uh Hmmm.”

Rufus tries to make himself sound like he really understands the old man when he “speech-a-fies” but the truth is that he almost always has a hard time following his friend whenever he uses those big words.

“Yep, grace under fire, that’s us.”

Whenever the old man speaks of “us,” he means African Americans

“Grace under fire is the real story of us, you know, Rufus?”

Rufus grunts assent and waits for the old man to expand on his thought.

“Yes sir, they ripped us from our native land. The smells, the sounds, the taste of home was our only luggage on the middle passage. They dragged us onto foreign soil, alien tongues assaulted our native ears. Our language was whipped out of us and we were forced to speak a foreign tongue they did not teach us but when we finally learned to speak what we thought we heard, they laughed and called us ignorant. They did not recognize our genius, did not see the majesty of our being!”

“They barely named us, treated us worse than that stubborn old mule that refused to pull the plow. They beat us and expected us to love them unconditionally, bowing and scraping whenever they were around, had us mammy their babies and bear children forced upon our women by the master’s rough hands.”

“The sounds and the smells and the tastes of our native land were forced out of us. We swallowed our sorrow, mingled tears with sweat and endured the angry bite of cotton bolls picked in the scorching heat of every day.”

“They force freed us then designed a new bondage named after a minstrel song that foisted violent servitude upon us, brutal acceptance of their inhumanity. They hung us from trees while they picnicked and took trophy pictures like hunters on a safari.”

“We endured it all, wept through it all, buried our dead too young, muted our anger, wrapped ourselves in our frustration and waited and waited and waited for real freedom  ”

“Well, freedom finally caught up with us, we thought, but it came with conditions attached. Stay in your place, accept what we say is right for you, be grateful for the crumbs we half-heartedly throw to you, walk through that open door then work twice as hard to prove your worth.”

“We worked hard, we assimilated, we embraced our natural roots, we expected more but each day we received less and they wonder why we are not satisfied.”

“But, dagnabit, look at us Rufus, we are still here, still climbing Mr. Hughes’ torn, worn stairs. We are still striving, still pressing, and Rufus, we ain’t rioted full scale across the country, yet, not even when they  killed Martin or when Malcolm died, not even when they killed our boys, our girls, our men, our women. Our souls have been tried. Our spirits have been bruised. Our hearts have been burdened. Our tears have been bitter. Our losses have been huge. But, even so, we held on to hope, we still hold on to hope. They still killing us but we still get up in the morning. We still laugh. We still dance. We still sing. We still love. We still marry. We still have children. Shoot, we still like sex when we have the energy!”

Rufus chuckles then looks around to see if anyone heard that last comment his friend made.

“We have not yet reached the end of our rope but I’m mighty a-feared that the rope of our hope is getting shorter, that the fuse of our anger might be about to be lit for a great explosion of retribution. I pray that peace prevails and that equality, one day, will one hundred percent win. That is my prayer. It’s my prayer for our land, Rufus. Its my prayer for us, too.”

Rufus blinks a few times as he chews on the old man’s words. He is both proud and afraid at the same time but he sits up a just a little straighter, squares his shoulders and says,

“Yessuh, we sho have puhSAHnuhfied  grace undah fiyah, yessuh, we sho have. ”

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